The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the owner of a coal mine in Meghalaya where 15 people have been trapped for nearly two months saying he was responsible for the illegal mining due to which the incident took place.
The top court directed that the owner of the mine be made party in the pending petition seeking urgent steps for rescuing the miners trapped in the rat-hole mine since December 13 last year.
The illegal mine is located at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest and can be accessed after crossing three streams. It was flooded when water from the nearby Letein river gushed into it.
"The mishappening has taken place because of illegal mining in the concerned mines for which, obviously, the mine owner is responsible. It is, therefore, directed that notice be issued to the mine owner also, namely, Jrin Chullet @ Krip Chullet, R/O Village Narwan of District Khliehriat, East Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya," the bench said.
The top court sought the mine owner's reply by February 22 and directed the Meghalaya and Coal India Ltd. to furnish details of other illegal mines operating in the area.
It posted the matter for further hearing on February 22.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for petitioner Aditya N Prasad, said that the problem of de-watering the mines still persists.
He said that Kirloskar company has sufficient number of 100 Horsepower capacity pumps and is even ready to supply the same.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre said that it these pumps would be airlifted to the nearest point of the site and with the help of the Army authorities, they will be installed at the earliest.
Advocate Karan Singh Bhati, appearing for Coal India Ltd. said he wants to file status report on behalf of the company.
On January 28, the top court was informed that the body of a person, among the 15 miners trapped has been retrieved while another body was spotted by the Indian Navy.
The Centre had told the Supreme Court that a body was recovered on January 24 during the rescue operation and on January 26, the Navy personnel spotted the second body at about 280 feet.
The petitioner's counsel had argued that 14 to 15 high-powered water pumps were required to de-water the mines.
The Centre had said that Army personnel were already involved in rescue operation along with officials of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Indian Navy and other agencies.
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person.
In its status report filed in the top court, the Centre had said that crores of litres of water have been pumped out from the mine and remotely operated vehicles of the Indian Navy were already working in the rescue operation.
It had said Indian Air Force aircraft were also deployed for rescue operation.
The status report said that Meghalaya government is undertaking search and rescue operations and the Centre is supplementing the efforts by providing all necessary logistic support.
On January 16, remotely operated vehicles of Indian Navy detected a body at a depth of 210 feet in the flooded mine and efforts were made to retrieve it but the operation could not be completed as the body parts started disintegrating.
Earlier, the Centre had told the court that it has to "believe in miracles" for the 15 miners to come out alive.